Government announces $90 million task force to fight foreign interference

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The federal government will spend almost $90 million establishing a new counter foreign interference task force which aims to catch and then take to court anyone working to undermine Australia’s national interests.

The task force will include staff from domestic spy agency ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, financial intelligence unit Austrac, listening agency ASD and imagery intelligence organisation AGO.

“Our security and intelligence agencies have been clear that the threat from foreign interference has never been greater,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement on Monday.

“This task force is our next step to combat those threats as they evolve and to identify and disrupt the very people who want to undermine our democracy and way of life.”

The coalition announced the task force a week after the Nine Network reported Chinese operatives offered $1 million to fund Liberal Party member Nick Zhao’s tilt at the federal seat of Chisholm.

The 32-year-old was found dead in a Melbourne hotel room after reportedly approaching ASIO to discuss the plot.

Chisholm was subsequently won by Gladys Liu who faced scrutiny earlier this year over her links to Chinese Communist Party propaganda groups.

It was also reported last week that a Chinese defector provided ASIO with details of how Beijing military intelligence officers fund and conduct political interference operations in Australia.

Mr Morrison on Monday said his government was “constantly monitoring and reviewing the threats our country faces so our agencies have the right tools at their disposal to keep Australians safe”.

AAP has been told the new counter foreign interference task force – which will be supported by the Office of National Intelligence – will be focused on arrests and prosecutions.

The government believes the task force will strengthen the ability of intelligence agencies to analysis disinformation activities targeting democratic processes and elections around the world.

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